Yeah!!!! The holidays are here! Oh Shit!!!! The Holidays are here!
I will say it again, this year has been a challenge for all of us! I have yet to see anyone skipping down the road singing “Zippidy Doo Da” this year, except maybe in January. Regardless of your political views, health views, etc… we have all had more than our fair share of challenges and a lot of us are looking forward to the holidays but they too come with a certain level of concern due to uncertainty. Some of us look forward to seeing friends and families while others of us dread the obligations of socializing under normal circumstances. Now with COVID we are on a heightened state of alert which presents some very real physical and mental struggles for us all, with some very real consequences due to the prolonged engagement of our fight/flight alert system, which is primarily driven by our subconscious/reptilian brain.
Subconscious brain is our reptilian brain, one of the oldest parts of our brain. It is in charge of filtering all of our senses, sharp/dull, light touch, vibration, hot/cold, proprioception, kinesthetic awareness, what we hear, see and taste, all in an effort to protect us from harm. When it feels something is wrong in the world around us it sounds the alarm which engages our core (vocal folds, diaphragm, and pelvic floor) so we can get ready for fight or flight. The higher brain (the slow one) has to decide fight, flight, or stand down. Hence why pain takes our breath away just as much as a scary movie. Subconscious doesn’t care, it has 1 job and that is to protect us by moving lightening fast when necessary. It also gets the lions share of blood flow when triggered. We automatically re-route resources to the areas of the body and the brain that are doing the most work which means it is taking blood from the higher brain in order to meet the demands of the apparent threat.
I know when I am arguing with someone from a place of anger I go away cataloging all the things I should have said. Anger is a manifestation of our fight/flight response. We feel attacked and we often times react in order to defend ourselves, even if it is just our political position and not an immediate physical threat. The problem is we are funding our subconscious brain and not the conscious brain thereby making us more “dumb” because we don’t have as much blood flowing to the creative and logical part of the brain. It is probably one reason why we have seen a spike in the number of people taking antidepressants this year, me included. We have also seen a spike in alcohol sales as well as recreational drugs as coping strategies albeit temporary. The chronic stress and anxiety is not normal for us and it is causing our brains to stay in fight/flight mode, even if it is a low level. We have not been able to fully disengage and completely relax our systems to get back to baseline.
So how do we get back to baseline? Talk to your doctors if you are unhappy with how you are coping with the stresses of 2020. If not your doctors then talk to friends. We are all going through this together and sharing our story with another person can connect us in beautiful ways.
Other strategies for self care are things like:
- Meditation – even a quick 10 minute meditation every morning BEFORE the TV and computer go on can help reframe your day on a more positive note.
- Sunlight – Getting outside in the bright sun for at least 15 minutes helps reset the brains sleep/wake cycle. Use sunscreen if you are like me and are prone to skin cancer.
- Physical activity – walking briskly for 15 minutes a day can be as affective as an antidepressant. Combine it with #2!
- Gratitude journal – In the morning BEFORE tv and internet write down 3 things for which you are grateful. Be specific and no repeating what you wrote previously! The key is not just say for what you are grateful but more importantly why! 21 days of this has been shown to improve happiness by teaching the brain to look for the good things. Trust me, they are happening but are overshadowed by the bad things in our lives. If it can work for the homeless then it can work for you too!
I encourage you to start now (before the holiday stress ramps up) with one of the above 4 items and get use to it before adding any of the others. There is no rhyme or reason nor a particular order for you to do them in. Pick the one you feel is easiest and start there. If none of them appeal to you or feel possible then call me, we can work something out. 443-742-0019.